Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Quest Theatre Ensemble

Also see John's reviews of Trust and Chess

Meg Haak
Those who contend the theories of evolutionism and creationism should be taught in schools "side by side" ought to be pleased with this original creation by Quest Theatre Ensemble because it presents the two theories literally side by side. And not only side by side, but simultaneously! This ingenious piece of performance art, adapted and directed by Andrew Park, offers depictions of each narrative, set to the same original score by Scott Lamps and performed simultaneously on the same stage by a cast of 14. The audience is split into two groups: one seeing "Evolution" first and the other seeing "Creation" first. Seating sections are on opposite sides of the stage, with a seven-piece orchestra of strings, winds, keyboard and percussion in the middle. After a prologue visible to both halves of the audience, curtains are drawn in front of the orchestra so that each audience section sees only the program in front of them. The audience groups switch sides of the theatre during intermission to see the story they didn't see in the first half. Other than the Prologue, the Entr'acte and the Finale, the identical score (mostly orchestral, but with vocal sections sung in Latin by a chorus of six voices) is performed in each half. It seems like it should be boring to hear the same score twice in the space of some 80 minutes, but the movement on stage is so fascinating and each story so different from the other it's not boring at all. Composer Lamps says there are minor variations in the orchestration between acts, and that may serve to give a feeling of hearing something different as well.

I was assigned to see "Evolution" first. Much of it is lighting effects, with performers hooded and garbed entirely in black like the "kurogo" of Kabuki traditions, moving light bulbs, puppets and props around the blackened stage. It begins with the "Big Bang," in which a single light explodes into dozens of other lights. Evolution into single cell organisms is represented by jellyfish-like puppets that appear to float up into the sky. The shifting of tectonic plates is shown on globes, and puppets represent early shelled animals as land masses, more hospitable to life, emerge from the oceans. A battle of dinosaurs is created by performers under sheets adorned with neon lights forming outlines of the beasts. Their extinction thanks to the Ice Age follows after a meteor is shown to hit the globe. Mankind emerges through a series of masked performers representing humanoid types in various stages of evolution before "homo sapiens" (modern man) emerge to complete a tableau of the familiar depiction of the species comprising the stages of human evolution.

"Creation" covers the stories of the Book of Genesis, from the creation of the world in seven days, through Adam and Eve, their fall from grace and continuing through the story of Noah's Ark. "Creation" is as brightly lit as "Evolution" act is dimly lit. This act, like many Quest productions, makes generous use of puppets—life sized and smaller—along with masks and colorfully painted flats. Graphics quote the Bible verses describing the six days of God's creation of the Earth, with Adam and Eve (Pavi Proczko and Meg Haak) emerging modestly dressed in fig leaves over flesh-toned underwear. Appropriately, Proczko also plays the "homo sapiens" of "Evolution," making him the "first man" of both depictions. After their fall from grace (in which a giant puppet hand points the way out of Eden), Cain and Abel puppets fight to the death (of Abel). The family's lineage down to Noah is displayed on a chart and the story of the Great Flood begins. Puppet animals march two by two onto the Ark. After a puppet dove returns the fabled olive branch to Noah, the waters subside and "Creation" ends with God's promise to Noah that he will never again destroy the Earth and all mankind.

Quest excels at visual invention. Their puppets, masks, costumes, props and sets always amaze. In this show, these talents are on display throughout and are a real feast of design. Kudos are well earned by the entire design team, which includes the sets by Nick Rupard; costumes by Joanna Melville; lighting, projection and sound design by Alex Buholzer; and puppets by James Scott. The fourteen performers in the cast are mostly unseen and hence unsung heroes, effectively directed by Park with movement coaching by Kerrie Korzatkowski. Lamps' haunting score is given a rich and lush performance by the orchestra and chorus under the musical direction of Gary Powell.

No new details are offered or liberties taken with these two narratives and if a viewer gets no more from this show than delight in its visuals, that will probably be enough. Still, whether one subscribes to one theory or the other (or neither, or both), Evolution/Creation may leave the viewer with the sense that, however we got here, it's quite miraculous that we did.

Evolution/Creation will play Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 28th at The Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory, Chicago. Admission is free, but reservations are highly recommended and donations are greatly appreciated. For more information, please visit or call 312.458.0895 Ext. 3 for reservations.

Photo: Jeremy Lawson

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